I start by choosing plants for the easiest season first — fall. Goldenrods and asters are the stars and workhorses of the fall pollinator garden. The Wild Seeds Project has an interesting article about the special role of these two plants, called The Beauty and Pollinator Benefits of Asters and Goldenrods.
It’s a shame that goldenrods aren’t used more in gardens here, like they are in Europe. Goldenrod doesn’t cause allergies; its pollen is large and sticky to facilitate insect pollination, so it doesn’t blow around. Ragweed is the culprit. It has fine, light pollen because the plant is wind-pollinated. For more information, read the Nature Web article Fall Allergies? Don’t Blame Goldenrod!
Zigzag goldenrod is my absolute favourite. Watch my YouTube video of the remarkable insect activity on one of my zigzag goldenrod plants. In my garden, this goldenrod attracts the most insects, grows in dry, part-shade, and is even fragrant. What’s not to love?
Early goldenrod blooms before the zigzag goldenrod. It grows in sun, but doesn’t attract as many pollinators in my garden, perhaps because so many other flowers are still blooming.
I also have seedlings for Ohio goldenrod, ‘Fireworks’ rough goldenrod, blue-stemmed goldenrod, stiff goldenrod, and showy goldenrod. These are still too small to put on much of a show, so we’ll see how they compare in the future.
Silverrod: a pastel goldenrod. If you aren’t fond of yellow, give silverrod a try. It’s flowers are pale yellow or cream. Beaux Arbres Native Plants sells seeds and plants. Again, my plants were grown from seed and haven’t bloomed yet.
Smooth aster is a great purple-blue aster for sun, and is popular with various bees in my garden. Its yellow flower centres combine beautifully with goldenrod. It also looks lovely with the fall leaves of native shrubs.
Some of my favourite pictures of asters are from Le Jardin Plume, in France. Romantic clouds of asters and feathery grasses dot the fall gardens. The Ottawa Public Library has their book Le jardin plume: comme un jeu avec la nature.
Heart-leaved aster grows in part-shade and has smaller blue flowers.
White wood aster also grows in part-shade and has many small white flowers with yellow centres.
Annuals for pollinators in fall
In the fall, migrating Monarchs and Painted Lady butterflies particularly enjoy Mexican tithonia and Brazilian verbena to fuel up for their long journeys.
Watch a video of Monarchs and Painted Ladies on my Mexican tithonia patch in September 2017. This was an unusual congregation of butterflies waiting for the winds to change direction to facilitate their flight south. You can read about this unusual phenomenon in the CBC Montreal article Wondering where all those butterflies came from? What a spectacular sight!